Photo by Matthew Collette
KATIE: And I’m Katie Toth. You may have heard of Google Glass. It’s essentially a computer embedded in what looks like a pair of eyeglasses. But it’s not actually available in stores yet. Right now, someone who wants a pair of the device has to apply to become what’s called a “Glass Explorer,” get accepted by Google, and pay $1500 for the device.
RACHEL: And before customers can actually buy Google Glass, lawmakers in New York and more than a half dozen other states are trying to ban their use while driving. They want laws on the books the devices become just another distraction for drivers. Matt Collette reports.
COLLETTE: About every month, a few dozen software developers, tech nerds, and people who are just curious get together at a midtown bar to talk about “wearable technology.”
FADE UP: AMBI OF MEETUP AT BAR
Right now, that means Google Glass — and like just about everybody who comes to these events, Launa Rich took her opportunity to try it on.
RICH: So what are some commands I can do?
GANDHI: Say OK Glass. (0:04)
The device belongs to software developer Amish Gandhi. He tells Rich to look up and to the right, at the screen positioned above right eye with a set of commands on it. She picks one.
RICH: OK Glass. Oh, I see. Take a picture. Smile everybody. (0:04)
Google Glass can also make calls, send messages — just about anything a regular smartphone can do. Rich thinks Google Glass and the wearable technologies that come after could end up being as big a deal as smartphones are today.
RICH: It’s just all really fascinating and it’s happening really fast. I think this is going to be revolutionized in, like, one year, two years, and I want to see where it started. (0:10)
FADE DOWN MEETUP AMBI
But some people think that could be a problem, especially once users get behind the wheel.
Robert Sinclair of AAA New York says wearable technologies like Glass could end up being just as big a distraction to drivers as texting with their smartphones, which plays a role in one in five fatal car crashes in the U.S.
SINCLAIR: Just looking this and using common sense, it would seem like something someone should not be doing while they’re behind the wheel. (0:07)
Concerns like that have prompted legislators to introduce three bills in New York. They’re similar to others before legislatures across the country that would ban the use of wearable technologies while driving. Assemblyman Marcos Crespo of the Bronx is the sponsor of one of the bills in Albany.
CRESPO: We want to broaden the conversation beyond just texting and we want to take a serious look at these other technologies. (0:06)
Crespo wants to go beyond banning the use wearable technology while driving. His bill would let victims of car accidents sue Google and other device manufacturers if the driver who caused the accident was using their wearable device.
CRESPO: These companies – the manufacturers, the sellers – they’re all making great profits off the sale of these items. And there should be some consciousness over the fact that the use of them improperly will lead to death. (0:14)
Google’s trying to stop these bills. Company lobbyists have been reaching out to Crespo and other legislators, inviting them to try Glass. The company argues Glass is inherently less distracting than a smartphone because instead of looking down, the user glances us and to the right. Drivers to that anyway when they check the rear view mirror.
Crespo says he’ll meet with anyone, but he stands by his bill.
CRESPO: I will continue to reiterate, though, that we have a responsibility to the state, to our community, to our districts to enhance safety. (0:09)
Google’s Chrissy Persico says it’s most important that users are aware of local laws and make their own decisions about using Glass responsibly.
PERSICO: You know, we just ask people to use common sense. (0:02)
Some fans of wearable technologies even think these devices could make driving safer. Software developer Jake Steinerman noticed that the sensors in Glass can measure the angle of users’ heads and the way their eyes are moving.
STEINERMAN: I saw in it the potential for things like drowsiness detection while you’re driving. (0:06)
Steinerman developed DriveSafe, an app for Google Glass that can tell if drivers start to nod off. If users’ heads start to dip or eyes start to close, the app talks to them
DRIVE SAFE: Wake up. Perhaps you should find a rest area. (0:04)
At the wearable technology get-together, a lot of people are talking about how big Glass and the devices that follow it are going to be. Event organizer Amish Gandhi says it may not be for everyone, but it’ll still be popular — whether it’s in glasses, a watch, or some new form altogether.
GANDHI: I think in the long term, I do see a lot of adoption. But I think we’ll see some very specific use cases that come out and those are the ones that are going to stick. (0:07)
The Assembly’s Transportation committee is set to begin hearings on the three wearable technology bills next month. Matt Collette, Columbia Radio News.